Durga Puja of ‘bonedi’ families of Chandannagar

Durga Puja is the greatest festival of the Bengalees. It is not only celebrated in the barowari puja pandals; but it is equally celebrated in many households of West Bengal. In my previous blogs I tried to cover the bonedi families of Kolkata and Howrah; though still a number of families left, which I hope to cover in the coming years. Chandannagar, a former French colony, just 35 kilometres from Kolkata, is famous for barowari Jagaddhatri Puja and lighting. But there are a number of bonedi families in this town who are celebrating Durga Puja with great pomp and splendour for many years. In this blog I tried to cover eight such families.

Durga dalan of Bose Bari of Chandannagar.

The Durga Puja of Bose Bari in Bosepara area of Khalisani is celebrating the puja for the last 512 years. It was started in 914 Bangabda which according to Gregorian calendar comes to 1507 A.D. It was started by Karunamoy Basu, son of Dasarath Basu, who also founded the famous Bisalakhi Temple in 906 Bangabda. The Boses were zamindars of three areas – Napara, Khalisani, etc. The dalan where the puja is being held has undergone major renovation; but I was told by a senior family member that this was the same place where the puja is being held for so long. It was the period when River Saraswati was navigable and it was the main life line of that area.

The festoon outside the house of Bose in Chandannagar.

The puja here is performed following the Baisnab rituals; and hence there is no balidaan or sacrifice. The idol of the goddess is prepared in the thakurdalan itself and following the age-old practice of kathamo puja (worship of the structure) on the auspicious day of Janmastami. The interesting thing here is this that the dhakis, the priest and even the artist preparing the idol of Goddess Durga belong to that same family who participated in the festival more than two centuries ago. Like the other bonedi famiies there is Kumari puja and the ritual of Dhuno porano on the auspicious day of Mahastami.

Goddess Durga.

The idol of Goddess Durga is very much unique. One striking thing is about the Nabapatrika or kalabou. Unlike other bonedi families of Chandannagar, the ritual of bathing of nabapatrika is still done on the banks of river Saraswati following the age-old tradition. The bodhan of the goddess is done on the first day after Mahalaya. Here no annabhog is served to the goddess and, instead different types of naibidya is offered to all the deities.

Durga Puja on the day of Mahastami.

The family deity of the Bose’s is Madanmohan; and Dolyatra is also celebrated here. There were three old Shiva temples; a separate room for Chandi and kachari bari (office). Earlier there used to be a theatre or yatra, and, during those days hogla leaves were used to cover the roof. Earlier there used to be floral motifs in the dalan; but owing to renovation, they have all gone into oblivion.

Rakshit House in Chandannagar.

Durga Puja of Rakshit Bari of Chandannagar is celebrating the puja for the last 179 years. It was started in the year 1841, when Chandannagar was a French colony. The Durga Puja is held in the thakurdalan itself along with other pujas – Lakshmi, Kali, Kartick and Saraswati of which I was told by a family member that Saraswati Puja is the oldest.

Inside the Rakshit bari.

The Rakshits originally belonged to Dhanakhali; but owning to Maratha attacks they shifted to Chandannagar. The Durga puja was started by Gobinda Rakshit, father of Durga Charan Rakshit. Durga Charan was later awarded the prestigious Legion d’ honneur, the highest French award in 1896 and he was the first Indian to receive it.

Durga idol of Rakshit Bari.

The family deity of the Rakshits is Narayan. Dolyatra is also celebrated here and, on that day only, I was told that Narayan is taken out of the house under the shade of a silver umbrella in the nearby Sasthitala for the necessary puja and rituals. Here bodhan followed by adhibas takes place on Sasthi. Kathamo puja is held on Janmastami. The rituals of Kumari puja on Nabami and Dhuno porano on Astami are meticulously followed. A striking feature of this puja is Dhala naibidya offered to the deity on Sandhi puja. At one point of time, senior French officials of Chandannagar visited this puja.

Mondal Bari of Gondalpara.

My third destination is Mondal Bari of Gondalpara. When I visited the house, Sandhi puja was in progress, and, I was pretty lucky to witness the puja. It was a memorable experience to me. The house is pretty big and old. An interesting thing struck my eyes when I entered inside the courtyard. It is a spiral iron staircase on the left of the Durga dalan. At that point of time, when I visited the house I found that 108 oil lamps were lit.

During Sandhi puja.

The Durga puja of the Mondals started way back in 1825 by Chandi Charan Mondal; though the house (Mondal bari) was built much earlier – way back in 1741. The Mondals were traders dealing mainly in salt business apart from foodgrains. The Mondals had good relationship with the French, and, it was heard that the French Governor of Chandannagore Joseph Francois Dupleix had visited their residence at one point of time.

Ghose Bari, Fatakghora.

Ghosh Bari of Fatakghora is celebrating Durga Puja for 223 years. It was started by Gora Chand Ghosh, who actually belonged to Baidyabati area of Hooghly. There were two old Shiva temples outside the house built in 1224 Bangabda (1817 A.D) where daily worship is performed. As like many families, the puja is held here following the Baisnab rituals. The puja is now being celebrated by the seventh generation – Gora Chand Ghosh – Raj Kishore Ghosh – Nandalal Ghosh – Tantra Sadhan Ghosh – Rabindra Sundor Ghosh- Ranjit Ghosh – Rajat Subhra Ghosh.

Durga idol of Ghosh Bari of Fatakghora.

Apart from Durga Puja, Kali Puja and Jagaddhatri Puja are also celebrated in the same dalan. But there is no Lakshmi Puja. Another feature which draws my attention is Jagaddhatri Puja. Normally, in Chandannagar Jagaddhatri puja is celebrated for five days; but here in Ghosh bari it is a single day puja on the day of Nabami. Kumari puja on Mahastami and dhuno porano, a ritual practised by the married women where towel is placed on their heads and then the burining malsa on the day of Nabami were previously peformed; but now these rituals are stopped. The bodhan here starts much earlier on the day of Krishna Nabami tithi. A close look at the idol will reveal that the mukuts of the deities are triangular in shape and each is dedicated to a separate god/goddess. Starting from the left is Goddess Kali followed by Radha Krishna in the centre and Goddess Jagaddhatri on the right. I was told by a family member about an unique event connected with this puja. Earlier the children who used to come to this house during the puja time are offered different types of toffies and even baloons. Is’nt it sound amazing. Yes, definitely; but all such are now memories as this custom has now been stopped for quite some time.

Dey Bari.

Durga Puja of Dey Bari in Dey Para of Barasat area of Chandannagar is another house where it is being held from 1802 onwards along with Kali Puja. But here in this connection one thing to be noted that Durga Puja was stopped for 79 years from 1928 till 2005; and the following year (2006) it was again resumed. Hearing this story, I want to enquire about the probable cause. I was told by a family member that though Durga Puja was stopped during that period; but it did not have any effect on the Kali Puja whatsoever. It was being held since 1802 without any break. Now coming to the cause of the stoppage of the Durga puja, I came to know that it was due to to the ups and downs of the zamindari system.

Durga idol of Dey Bari.

Now coming to the rituals connected with this puja, first comes the uniqueness of Kumari Puja which is celebrated along with dhuno porano, a ritual followed by the womenfolk of the family for the well being of their children on the day of Mahastami.

The beautiful thakurdalan of the Dey Bari.

Here not one kumari but five kumaris are worshipped on the Mahastami day, and, not that only the kumari from the Brahmin family can participate; but it is also open to the non-Brahmins. The puja is performed as per Sakta rituals; and earlier there used to be animal sacrifice; but now completely stopped. Anna bhog is served to Maa Durga.

The ceiling of the thakurdalan.

The Dey Bari is a three-structure house and each part was built at a certain point of time. I was been informed that the middle structure being the oldest of the three. There was no plastering done but only made from sand and limestone bearing the taste of time. Beautiful floral motifs adorn the walls of this thakurdalan. A section of the dalan gets a fresh coat of paint owing to the festive season.

The thakurdalan of Kundu Bari.

A couple of minutes walk from Dey Bari will lead you to another bonedi bari of Dey Para – Kundu Bari whose Durga idol is permanent and, hence, there is no immersion on Dasami. Here the puja is being held for more than a century. The idol of Maa Durga is made of astodhatu (an alloy of eight metals) which was found close to a small pond by the side of the house. A very senior member of the family was told in a dream about the idol’s location. Thereafter the idol was searched for and found and from then onwards it was worshipped daily in the thakurghar (a separate room for the worship of the god and goddesses) in the second floor of the house. The idol is just about six inches in height.

The Durga idol.

The only thing that was followed during the days of the puja is that on the day of Saptami – the idol was taken from the thakurghar to the dalan and after completion of Dasami puja it was again returned to its orginal place. Like other families of Chandannagar, the rituals of both Kumari puja and dhuno porano takes place on the day of Mahastami. One exception here is that there is no Sandhi puja, though 108 oil lamps are lit during that time. Also another feature of this puja is there no bodhan; but a special puja followed by abhishek is held on the second day after Mahalaya. There used to be animal sacrifice on the three days of the puja; but this practice was stopped for more than four decades.

The idol made of astodhatu.

I was told that previously there used to be held both Kali Puja and Jagaddhatri Puja. One could even find beautiful piece of floral motifs in the dalan. During the days of the puja the courtyard is crowded with people. A special function is held on the day of Nabami.

Sett house of Palpara.

My next destination is the Sett Bari of Palpara. The house is famous for Harihar Sett, who was also awarded with Legion d’ honneur. The house is pretty old and the thakurdalan has massive pillars. The puja here is performed according to the Baisnab rituals. Earlier the bodhan used to be held on the day of Pratipad (the first day after Mahalaya); but now this practice has been stopped. The kathamo puja normally takes place on the day of Rathayatra. Earlier the idol was prepared in the durgadalan itself. But now that practice has been stopped; instead after the kathamo puja is over the structure is sent to the house of the artisan who prepares the idol and again send the finished idol back to the dalan for puja.

The durga idol.

I was told by Shri Gautam Sett, the grandson of Harihar Sett that the family deity is Iswar Lakshmi Janardan Jiu who is worshipped daily. The rituals of both Kumari puja and dhuno porano are meticulously followed on the day of Astami. The old practice of taking Maa Durga to the ghat for immersion carried on shoulders has been stopped. The durgadalan is well maintained and, during the time of the puja it bears a different look. I was shown that there was Dolmancha in the dalan which is used during Dolyatra.

Durga idol of Pal Bari.

My last destination is Pal Bari in Kundughat. Here I found a completely different Durga idol. Maa Durga is sitted side-by-side with Lord Shiva and she had only two hands instead of ten, This idol is popularly known as Hara Gouri or Shiv Durga. The puja here is also old. This was possibly the only house in Chandannagar where I found this type of idol; though I found some in Chinsurah. The dalan here is also old. All rituals are followed here including the Nabami hom. The traditional ekchala protima is placed on a wooden table. Another thing which drew my attention here is about the dhoti (a type of attire worn by menfolk) worn by Lord Ganesh and Kartick.

I tried to cover almost all the bonedi houses of Chandannagar. Regarding Khan House I would like to say that I did not find anyone who could narrate the history of the puja though I visited it on Astami afternoon. As I am not providing any details about that puja, so I am not giving any picture also.

I would like to pay my respect to Sri Biswajit Das of Chandannagar for accompanying me to some of the pujas of the bonedi houses of the town. I also like to convey my regards to the family member of each household for providing me their history including the Durga Puja which helped me a lot to design this blog.

Date of posting: 12th October, 2019.

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I am an amateur photographer. I like to visit places to see the unseen and know the unknown and capture the memory in my camera.

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